Affectionate words and tributes continue to pour in for former Governor Thomas Russell, who served the Cayman Islands for decades, first as the United Kingdom’s representative for our territory and then as Cayman’s representative in London. A true friend of the Cayman Islands, Governor Russell died in Scotland on Monday at the venerable age of 96.
Many people here recall Governor Russell’s tenure with admiration, respect and gratitude — as evidenced by the litany of anecdotes that appeared in a story we published on the front page of Thursday’s Compass. In this space, we won’t dwell extensively on Governor Russell’s considerable contributions to our islands, other than to highlight an event that singularly shaped the course of Cayman’s history.
As related by former Leader of Government Business Truman Bodden, Governor Russell formed part of the local contingent who in 1977 traveled to New York City to address the United Nations Committee on De-Colonization. Our message was, thank you very much, but Cayman was perfectly content to remain “un-de-colonized.”
Mr. Bodden said, “We thought economic independence was more important than political independence. They were shocked.”
We wish we could have been there to see the look of consternation on the faces of those global bureaucrats … But we digress.
The passing of Governor Russell, we feel, is an opportunity for broader reflection on the various relationships that Cayman has had with our different governors, the tenors of which have been influenced both by Cayman’s continually evolving relationship with the U.K. (as we mature as a jurisdiction, and as the U.K. itself changes in a mutable world), and also by the individual personalities of the governors themselves.
Over the decades, the people who have filled the “top executive” position in Cayman have left indelible marks on the fabric of the country. Even if very few residents living today (or none at all) retain memories of those past “Chief Magistrates,” “Commissioners,” “Administrators” or “Governors,” we bear witness on a daily basis, often unconsciously, to their legacies, which can be imbedded the names of places or institutions. For example, Governor Russell has an avenue in George Town named after him, as well as a beach in Bodden Town.
Consider closely the following names, which you may still find on current or recent maps of our country: George Stephenson Shirt Hirst (commissioner, 1907-1912), Sir Allan Wolsey Cardinall (commissioner, 1934-1940), Albert C. Panton (acting commissioner, 1940-1941), Ivor Otterbein Smith (commissioner, 1946-1952), Andrew Morris Gerrard (commissioner, 1952-1956), Sir John Alfred Cumber (administrator, 1964-1968), and Michael Edward John Gore (governor, 1992-1995), for starters.
Putting it another way, some governors have arrived in Cayman and filled their itineraries with ribbon-cuttings and social functions. Although those events can be enjoyable and have their own practical diplomatic utility, the primary purpose of Cayman’s governor is to ensure the security and “good governance” of our islands. That’s enshrined in the 2009 Cayman Islands Constitution.
When governors run into “bad governance,” it is incumbent upon them to step in and uphold the highest standards for the islands — even if it makes them unpopular with local elected members or the civil service. Some governors have been comfortable with that role. Other have been … more reluctant. Things occur in front of their eyes — and they avert their eyes.
Many of Cayman’s finest British-appointed representatives have been acutely aware of their responsibilities and have acted in kind. It is of paramount importance that U.K. officials maintain that mentality when selecting our governors. Being governor of the Cayman Islands is not a jolly or a jaunt. There’s real work to be done — and our local history will remember them according to their accomplishments.